The land of fire and ice
This time, our Flight Adventure takes us to a country not on the usual top 10 list of new destinations for flight sim pilots. However, recent commercial and freeware offerings have given a glimpse into the extraordinary diversity of Iceland.
Land of fire and ice
Iceland is a land born of volcanic activity along the junction of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Even today there are more than 130 volcanoes and with 30 active, past experience shows they are liable to erupt spectacularly at any time. It is the intense seismic and glacial activity that has resulted in Iceland being dubbed a land of ‘fire and ice’ – often at the same location.
Join us on an adventure which will take in some of the spectacular natural features. While we will be replicating some real-world commercial legs, we will also fly some that are best flown ‘low and slow’ in an attempt to tease you to spend more time exploring this intriguing country. There is a range of both freeware and commercial scenery add-ons that will enhance your stay, and you can find details for some suitable options in the Useful Information box.
I have chosen to fly these legs using Aerosoft’s Keflavik X and Orbx Simulations Global, Vector and openLC Europe. If you don’t run Global or OpenLC, Orbx has made an Iceland demo version available or OrbxDirect.
The weather in Iceland can be uncooperative a lot of the time and many airfields are at the head of fjords or surrounded by steep mountain ranges. So, if you choose to fly real weather as I often do here, it is wise to have some airport and approach charts on hand for each leg. You can obtain these from the Icelandic aviation website by using the ‘search’ function to add the ICAO code. You will find the PDF charts at the bottom of the aerodrome page you select. You can also download a PDF visual aviation chart for non-commercial use from the website.
Finally, the seasons are pronounced here with 24-hour sunlight for most of the summer and 24-hour darkness in winter. These flights were flown in mid-August when the days are long and the weather, in Icelandic terms, quite stable. Now fully armed, let’s get airborne.
Keflavík (BIKF) to Vestmannaeyjar (BIVM)
You can start these flights at Iceland’s main international airport at Keflavik (BIKF), or choose to fly in from North America or Europe. Keflavík is an ex-US airbase, some 20nm to the southwest of the capital, Reykjavík. It usually only services the international and occasional military flights, but we’ll be departing on our circumnavigation from here to highlight a bit of what Aerosoft’s Keflavik X can offer for flight sim pilots.
Our first leg closely approximates a commercial flight to the island of Vestmannaeyjar (BIVM) by Eagle Air Iceland. They fly a variety of smaller general aviation and turboprop aircraft from Reykjavík to the smaller airfields and their fleet includes the Reims F406 Caravan II, although any similar piston engine or turboprop aircraft will suffice as long as it can operate out of the 3,900ft airstrip.
Our IFR flight plan is the direct BIKF-SUNAK-MUKKI-BIVM route at a cruising level of 7,000ft for our short 70nm flight. After take-off, turn on to a 30° intercept heading to the KEF VOR (112.00MHz) 136 radial outbound. As you climb out towards the coast, you can see the old lava flow which covers this part of Iceland (most of Iceland actually).
You can expect a short cruise time once you level off, so let’s look at what makes Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands) so special. Like much of the country, it is still volcanically active as was demonstrated one night in 1973 when a 2km fissure opened up barely a kilometre from the town on the main island of Heimaey.
The entire town was evacuated by the local fishing fleet, but more than 400 homes were buried under the lava flow and if not for quick thinking, the island’s port may have been filled. Using seawater, they cooled the lava sufficiently to allow the port to remain open and continue to operate their fishing fleet, which is the islands main income. Not to be deterred, many returned and used the material and aftermath of the eruption to build the runways you will land on and to generate electricity etc.
If conditions allow, cancel your IFR flight plan and start your descent around 20nm out so you can overfly Heimaey before entering the circuit to land. While here, you can visit the Puffin colonies, tour the nearby islands by jet boat – including Surtsey – which formed out of the ocean in 1963 and has been closely examined by scientists since.
Vestmannaeyjar (BIVM) to Egilsstaðir (BIEG)
Our next leg is a 212nm flight which skirts the southern coast before turning inland and northwards to Egilsstaðir: BIVM-SR-ING-HN-BIEG initially at 9,000ft. Depart Vestmannaeyjar and track 080° towards the coast. As you approach the coast, take a look at Eyjafjallajökull straight ahead. This ice cap covers a volcano which made worldwide headlines in 2010 when the eruption grounded flights across the North Atlantic and Europe. The southern edge used to be the coastline, but frequent and violent eruptions and associated ash and lava flows have resulted in the coast being moved further south of its current location.
Once overhead Skardsfjara NDB (312.6KHz), turn right, climb to 11,000ft and if the conditions allow, track over the coastline towards the Ingo VOR (112.40MHz) rather than direct to allow for better views of the approaching range, the Vatnajökull National Park. The National Park covers an impressive 14% of Iceland and is home to Europe’s largest glacier outside the Arctic, the Vatnajökull Glacier. Continue to track along the coast after you pass the Ingo VOR and proceed towards the Hornafjordur NDB (330KHz).
You will continue to pass many glaciers that stream down from this volcanic ice cap. Embedded in this massif is the Katla Volcano, which is overdue to have a significant eruption and, based on its history, the next one has the potential to be devastating for Iceland.
Approximately a third of the way between Ingo and Hofn (HN NDB) you will see a large lagoon at the base of a glacier with a narrow outlet to the sea. This is Jökulsárlón and draws tourists to witness the icebergs that clog the lagoon. Ice breaks off the glacier face and drifts into the shallow lagoon before becoming grounded and filling the lagoon with spectacular ice sculptures.
Overhead HN NDB, turn left and track 033°M for the 64nm leg to Egilsstaðir via the Vad (VA) NDB (335KHz). If the weather is kind, you will get some great views to the west of the northern edge of the Vatnajökull National Park as it sweeps down to the plains of the interior. To the east, you will pass a series of fjords containing several small airstrips and make for a great optional flight from Egilsstaðir.
Time to return to our piloting and start our descent into Egilsstaðir. Start your descent about 30nm out and aim to be at the VA NDB at 3,700ft. This will give you the option of making an ILS approach into Runway 04 if the conditions are right. This approach can be daunting in the low cloud that often cloaks the valley but the same misty conditions can make it spectacular. Should you need to use Runway 22, beware that the highest pass in Iceland is just to the east. The airport is serviced by regular Dash 8 Q400 flights from Reykjavík as the town receives a weekly inundation of travellers via the ferry service from Denmark through the small nearby port at Seyðisfjörður.
Egilsstaðir (BIEG) to Akureyri (BIAR)
While the south coast is characterised by the ice caps and glaciers and the east by the series of fjords, the northeast is flatter but no less fascinating given its landform is the result of millennia of lava flows. Our route is: BIEG-RL-AKI-BIAR at 6,000ft. Intercept a 304°M outbound track as soon as you have cleared the hills to the west of the airport. We have selected a lower level on this leg to enjoy the views of the wild inland dotted by distant remnants of volcanoes and the twisted lava flow beneath.
Our route takes us towards the Reykjahlíð and the huge lake at Mývatn. It is a wonderland area of steam vents, craters and birdlife which came into being just 2,300 years ago, courtesy of a large fissure eruption, and sits on the same Eurasian-North American tectonic plate junction that formed Iceland. The lake fills from snowmelt and spring water and the name translates to Midge Lake, so bring your insect repellent – they’re not kidding! There is a 3,337ft airstrip at Reykjahlíð so you can stop off to climb the Hverfjall volcano or explore the caves and nearby nature baths.
Our route then takes us directly to the AKI VOR (113.60MHz), rather than direct to Akureyri, as it allows a more gentle descent up a valley and into the fjord where the runway juts out to meet you. Should you need to perform an IFR approach, you can fly the offset LOC/DME approach for Runway 01 which again makes use of a beautiful valley to allow a more gentle descent.
Akureyri is the second largest town in Iceland, just 50nm south of the Arctic Circle and is often called the capital of the north. Like much of the country, its main industry is fishing but tourism is increasing with regular Dash 8 Q400 flights from Reykjavík and occasional cruise ship visits.
Akureyri (BIAR) to Reykjavík (BIRK)
Our final leg on this circumnavigation is a regular public transport flight to Reykjavík using the route: BIAR-RH-SA-BIRK with an IFR cruising level of 9,000ft for the 139nm run. It is important to either depart in visual conditions or fly the published SID and climb above 7,100ft before intercepting the 252°M outbound track. The area is surrounded by steep terrain and visibility can be very low as fog settles into the valleys.
Once at our cruise level, we just need to maintain our direct track to the Reykholt NDB (325KHz) and hopefully enjoy the views over the Tröllaskagi peninsula to the north and the Hofsjökull and Langjökull icecaps to the south.
Our flight plan takes us to the initial approach fix for the Runway 19 ILS into Reykjavík, which is the most commonly used. If you’re flying using real weather, you may be vectored to a different runway, so keep a set of the IFR charts handy and don’t get too complacent on landing. Even though you are landing at the nation’s capital, steep terrain exists to the east and north and the airport is surrounded by suburban Reykjavík.
By Peter Stark
Our route has taken us around this small country and we have only had a glimpse of its natural beauty and piloting challenges. If Iceland has tempted you to explore more, try some of the optional flights suggested below.
Keflavik (BIKF): Fly airliner routes to Europe and North America. Flight details can be obtained from the Icelandair website.
1. Take a small turboprop or similar to Isafjordur (BIIS) and fly the offset LOC/DME approach into this very tricky airfield that is serviced by airlines.
2. Fly a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 on the regular run to Egilsstadir (BIEG) or Akureyri (BIAR) in IFR and experience instrument flying up the narrow valleys on final approach.
Fly down the east coast for stunning fjords and small airstrips in a GA aircraft.
Explore the fjords around northwestern Iceland, which is less explored by tourists.
Take the short flight north to Grimsey Island (BIGR) which is just inside the Arctic Circle.
Real Weather: Try these flights using Real Weather or similar to get the full spectrum of Icelandic flying! Try different seasons to see the changes in the weather and landscape.
- AIP/IFR charts for Iceland. (Use the search button and the PDF charts will appear at the bottom of the selected airfield page: http://eaip.samgongustofa.is
- A PDF VFR chart for Iceland for non-commercial use: www.isavia.is/english/c/charts
- A guide to flying in Iceland produced by Scandinavian VATSIM crew: https://vatsim-scandinavia.org